Last Updated on May 25, 2023, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 839
As the narrative begins, Dikeledi Mokopi sits inside a police van driving away from Puleng, the small village she used to live in, and heading toward Gaborone, the capital city of Botswana. As the police car drives further and further away from her home, she looks out of the window at the trees, bushes, and cattle, realizing that these familiar sights will be inaccessible to her while she is in jail.
When she reaches the prison, the guards discuss her crime, revealing to the audience that Dikeledi has killed her husband. This, a cynical officer remarks, has become a fashionable crime; four other women in the prison have been convicted of the same offense. The next day, Dikeledi tells her story to her cellmates. Her name means “tears” and was given to her because her father died when she was born, and her mother wept bitterly for him. From these bleak beginnings, she endured a miserable childhood and an abusive marriage, which ended when she castrated her husband and stood by as he bled to death.
One of the other women in the prison, Kebonye, also castrated her husband. He was an education officer who took advantage of his official position to sexually abuse young girls; Kebonye killed him when she discovered he had impregnated one of them. Dikeledi appreciates the companionship of Kebonye and the other three women who killed their husbands: Otsetswe, Galeboe, and Monwana. As they work and talk together, sharing their horrific experiences, she feels close to them and thinks of their friendship as “gold amidst the ash” of a painful existence. These relationships and emotional connections are the treasures Dikeledi collects to enrich her life.
The third-person narrator uses two men who have played central roles in Dikeledi’s life as examples of two different types of men who prevail in society. Dikeledi’s husband, Garesego, is one of the more common types: he is vicious and selfish “with no inner resources at all.” The increased freedom that came with national independence allowed such men to indulge their destructive appetites more than they did in the colonial period when they were poor and powerless. Garesego spends all his money on alcohol and prostitutes, leaving his family to struggle with poverty. Dikeledi’s former neighbor, Paul Thebolo, represents the second type of man. Paul is a decent, kind-hearted, civilized man, a school principal, a good husband and father, and a pillar of the community who tries to help his neighbors whenever he can.
Dikeledi was a close friend of Paul’s wife, Kenalepe. The two became so close that Kenalepe even offered to let Dikeledi sleep with her husband so that she could experience the joy of sex with a good man, as Garesego had never given her any pleasure. Although she declined this offer, Kenalepe’s generosity became one of the treasures that Dikeledi collects. Another treasure came from Paul himself, whose kindness to her is based on neither desire nor self-interest and was “too beautiful to be love.” Eventually, Dikeledi confessed to Kenalepe and Paul, telling them all about her sad life. Her mother died when she was six years old, forcing her to live with her uncle, who treated her as a servant and forced her to leave school early. When she married Garesego to escape from the harshness of her uncle’s house, her new husband treated her even more abusively. Eventually, they had three children, including a son named Banabothe, but their marriage remained strained.
Dikeledi and Garesego were living separate lives when she discovered that Banabothe had passed an important examination and had been accepted to a prestigious school. However, she was too poor to pay the necessary school fees and had to ask Garesego for the money. Angrily, Garesego accused her of being Paul’s mistress, as he does not believe that a man and a woman might be friends without having a sexual relationship. When Paul heard of this accusation, he confronted Garesego and punched him. Emboldened by Paul’s reaction, Garesego then claimed to have been assaulted by his wife’s lover; the men in the village enthusiastically repeated his lies because they had always disliked and envied Paul and the sense of inferiority he inspired in them.
Garesego then wrote to Dikeledi, explaining that he would visit her to discuss Banabothe’s school fees. In his letter, he demanded that she prepare a meal and a bath for him. After eating the prepared meal and enjoying his bath, Garesego went to sleep. While he slept, Dikeledi said goodnight to her children and cleaned up the house. With the chores complete, she went into Garesego’s room, raised a sharp knife above her head, and castrated him. Garesego died in agony, screaming and slowly bleeding to death. Dikeledi sent Banabothe to fetch the police and, when they arrived, gave herself up peacefully. When Paul arrived on the scene, he reassured her that he would take care of her children’s schooling while she was in prison.